Well, being able to remember the dim and distant days of when PC magazines first started having floppy disks on thier covers with a whole 1.44mb of data may not be a good thing. Recently I was looking through my magazines and I realised just how lame the cover disks have become.
Now, before anyone complains I am going to use this months PC Plus as an example – but it is not the only one. Pretty much any magazine is guilty of the same crimes 🙂 PC Plus is a good magazine and one I have bought numerous copies of.
First, looking back in time to the dark ages of floppy disks on covers. For those of you who dont remember it, this was when the WWW was a foundling at best. People connected to the Internet via 14.4 modems. Systems like archie (veronica et al) and gopher were still in use, and the only way you downloaded software was by arcane command line FTP. (None these evil incarnate file sharing things).
In those days, the magazine cover disk was truly a godsend. You could get trial versions of useful software and often there was no other way. The main limitation was (obviously) the file size. Thanks to some good coding practices, there was a lot of old style software that could fit on a floppy – something that now even most GUI widgets cant manage. Despite this, floppy disks were great. Even when the software was rubbish (about 33% of the time) you could re-use the disk! Every one was a winner.
Next in the evolution came the CD-Rom. This was the golden age for cover disks. At a time when net connection had just made it to 28.8 and ISDN was a rumour, the opportunity to have a massive 650MB on a cover disk was breathtaking. I still have a monumental collection of magazine cover CDs from the last ten years or so. They were brilliant and are still great. You could get things like proper, free version of Borland C++ or other wonders of the era. The CD Rom provided a perfect means for people to save time on downloads (remember people were still paying ISP charges AND phone bills to connect to the internet!) and it gave people access to freeware / shareware they would otherwise never come across. Truly things were good.
Sadly, the good times came to an end. Technology moved on. Cover disks evolved once more. DVD drives appeared on the market and were almost instantly a standard fit on PCs. Added to this high speed and unmetered internet connections became the norm. Now people could (and did) leave their PC connected to the world wide web 24/7 downloading software. The magazine cover disks took a big hit. Intially they responded very well – the amount of “free software” they included was fantastic for a while – although this was nearly always an old version of something and the vendor wanted people to buy the upgrade. The first signs of problems were in the “competition” to have the most value on the cover disks. This was when the blurbs like “Â£400 of software” appeard (and are still there today). As an example April 06 PCW has “9 Full Programs Worth Â£206” and March 2006 PC Plus has a “Total worth over Â£150.”
This is all still very good you may think, and to an extent I agree with you. However on looking inside it more than often transpires that the actual value of the software is closer to zero. Normally the “Full Version” applications are very out of date and quite often available for free download anyway.
Sadly, the biggest problem with cover disks at the moment is they try to ensure that not a single byte of the 4.7GB they have is missed. This leads to some amazing tosh being put on the disk for no apparent reason than to advertise how great the disk is!
Keeping with PC Plus as the example, not only does the cover disk come in a pointless card wallet inside the magazine (to make it impossible for you to file it with the older disks which either came in a CD or DVD box as the mood fit the editor) but the software on it consists of a veritable mountain of open source material.
There are four “full software highlights” which are where they get the value from – Paragon Partition Manager 2005 (urgh), Laplink Everywhere 4 (Good enough), Serif Media Plus 1.0 (why!?!?!?!) and Atelier Web Remote Commander 3.1. Now, I have never used the last one before so I cant really pass comment on it – however it is blurbed as “Manage and audit servers and workstations from your local computer and provide remote helpdesk support” so I suspect it is aimed at the corporate market. This begs the question why dont they buy the bloody software in the first place? I loathe to have to call a help desk that is reliant on cover disk software for it’s IT purchasing decisions.
With the last one, the suspicious part of me suspects it has a dual role as it functions without any software installation on the remote machine………
These take up a small portion of the disk (comparitavely, in the days when PC Plus offered 3 CD Roms they would have been ideal) so, to keep the disk full and meet the advertising requirements of “NOW INSIDE 4.7GB DVD” they have loaded on a phenomenal amount of tosh in the “essential collection” (Translation: same stuff every month)
Now, when I say it is rubbish I dont mean the software is rubbish – I am mainly disagreeing with loading it all there every month to fill the disk. I am not going to list the whole disk contents but I suspect they have little or no idea who their target audience is and have opted for the shot gun approach and put as much OS software on the disk as possible. Some of it (Apache, Tomcat, MySql, PHP 5, etc ) you would suspect that anyone willing and able to install and play with this software, is also able to download it themselves.
But what do I know. I like PC Plus and think it is a worthwhile read. I think is definitely overpriced and would neve subscribe. (BTW all the others are just as bad!)